A NATIONAL shortage of Accident and Emergency specialists coupled with an increase in patients has seen Arrowe Park Hospital spending more than £1m hiring locum doctors.

Figures obtained by Labour under Freedom of Information law show the cost of paying locums to plug the gaps in A&E units in the North West has increased by 88.6% in three years.

At Wirral Hospital, theamount spent on locums has tripled within that time - from £382,839 to £1,167,628.

This also includes accident and emergency medical agency spend.

A locum can earn £1,500 a shift, more than four times what it would cost to employ a permanent doctor in the same role.

A Wirral Hospital Trust spokesman said: “We aim to keep the use of locum professionals to a minimum.

“Like all acute hospital trusts, our Accident and Emergency services have seen a significant increase in the number of patients attending our emergency department and we are also treating patients who are sicker and require more complex and timely health care needs.

“This is combined with what is a national shortage of accident and emergency doctors.

“To meet this growing requirement, this trust does call on the skills and availability of locums as and when the need arises.”

Doctors groups have described the situation of “absurd” and damaging to morale, while politicians have dubbed the situation a “matter of real concern”.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour party candidate for Wirral West, said: “The increased amount spent on locum doctors at Arrowe Park Accident and Emergency is a matter of real concern.

“Hospital budgets are stretched and this money would be much better spent on permanent staff.

“Patients are paying the price for David Cameron’s mismanagement of the NHS.

“We are witnessing a crisis in accident and emergency.”

But health minister Dan Poulter told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “There has been for many years a problem. It was first flagged up in 2004 under the previous Government, about recruiting doctors into accident and emergency.

“It takes six years to train Accident and Emergency doctors so this well pre-dates the current Government.

“The good news is there are now more permanent doctors than there were before 2010. We have seen a 20% increase in the number of consultants and there are 352 more doctors working in accident and emergency.”

Labour received data from 108 trusts - three-quarters of the ones that run A&E units.

It covered all grades of doctors and suggested these temporary staff were now being employed for nearly one-in-ten consultant shifts and up to one-in-six for more junior posts.